External Affairs

‘They Killed Islam, They Killed Humanity', from 'the Other Side of the Durand Line'

Afghan students recall attack on American University in Kabul

afghanistan-university_attack-reutersKabul: A day after Wednesday’s deadly terrorist attack on the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), an extraordinary session of the National Security Council was told that the Afghan intelligence service has concluded that “it was organised and orchestrated from the other side of the Durand Line”.

Surrounded by members of the National Security Council, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani then dialled the only number in Pakistan that mattered in such a situation – Army Chief Raheel Sharif. Ghani asked for “serious and practical measures against the terrorists organising the attack”. Sharif, as per the Afghan presidential palace, “promised that Pakistan will evaluate the case and brief Afghanistan on the taken measures”.

On the streets of the Afghan capital – and across social media channels – the university’s students are still taking in the horror of the terrorist attack that killed at least 13 people.

“I’m in. Looking forward to a beautiful and bright future,” a young Afghan student, Sami Sarwari, wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday. He had recently secured admission to the university.

Sarwari was killed on his first day of the semester, in the attack that claimed 13 lives, of which at least seven were students. Several others were injured, including nine police officers and 35 students, the Kabul police chief said. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet.

But even as the complex attacks, that continued for over eight hours, were carried out, individual experiences and personal stories unfolded on social media.

“We are stuck in university and under attack by taliban… they are killing us,” read a grim Facebook post by Mohammad Anil Qasemi, a student at AUAF.

Even as people on social media tried to pin the exact location of the first explosion that rocked the neighbourhood in downtown Kabul, a single tweet from the account of renowned Afghan photojournalist Massoud Hossaini caught everyone’s attention.

“Help we are stuck inside AUAF and shooting followed by Explo this maybe my last tweet (sic),” wrote the Pulitzer prize winning photographer on the social media platform.

Soon, more tweets and Facebook posts from students and faculty members stuck inside the campus started to flood the Afghan social media space.

“American university under attack,” tweeted Ahmad Samim, an associate professor at the university. He was caught inside the campus as the insurgents infiltrated the campus. A little later he tweeted, “Don’t kill me I’m very innocent.”

Many university students in Kabul have day jobs and attend classes in the evening. So, it is estimated that around 700 students were on campus at that hour.

“We first heard the explosion,” recalls Ali Ataie, an IT and computer science student who was in the library when the first attack was made. “The library is a little away from the gate that was attacked, but we could see the flames that the explosion cause, it was that big,” he adds.

Ali, along with about 20 other students, were quickly escorted by a few faculty members present there to the nearby exits. “We had done security drills before, so we knew what to do and where to go,” he explains. The gunshot started just as Ali and others were getting out of the campus.

“On the way out, I saw several injured students. One girl had hurt her leg due to the explosion and could barely walk,” he says. The emergency exit opens in to the alleys in the residential area close by. Several residents came out to help the escaping students. “My friend was taken in by a family in that neighbourhood. At their home he saw a lot of his fellow students being given first aid by the family,” said Ali, who continued walking till he got close to his home.

Another student, Belal Noori, was in the hallway outside the library when he heard the explosion. “I was a few steps away from the door that opened to the campus yard. I heard a big explosion and saw flames outside. I thought the roof was going to fall,” he describes.

“Some crying, some shouting. I heard someone telling us about the emergency door. We rushed into the library … to reach the door behind the building,” he adds.

Once out, the students immediately tried to find their friends and classmates. Several students were stuck inside as the insurgents started to fire within the campus grounds. Some of the students used social media to let their loved ones know they were safe, while some others, like Hossaini and Qasemi, used it to make a plea for help.

Haunting messages from inside the campus made their way to social media. “… we need help, we are in building in Bayat building…. They are shooting on all classes… We need instructions pllese (sic),” Qasemi, along with other students, used Facebook to reach out for help.

“My friend was stuck inside the Bayat building and hid there till 4am, when he was finally rescued,” says Belal. It is believed that student stuck in the Bayat building were held hostage during the attack.

“They were moved to the conference room on the second floor and made to lie on the floor,” Ali says.

“Another student I know decided to make a run for it and jumped off the second floor on to a container. He broke his leg in the process but he managed to escape,” he adds.

Obituaries and eulogies flooded social media soon after the attack ended. Many saw this as an attack on Afghanistan’s “best and educated”.

“My professor was killed today, I took Islamic law and family law classes with him. He had two graduate degrees, was a Fulbright scholar and recently planned to go to US for his PhD program. He was a Hafiz Quran too,” read one eulogy on Facebook by a student at AUAF, Edriss Bazger, referring to the killing of Professor Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak.

“He died today because of the terrorists who think they represent Islam and killed a professor who memorised the whole Quran. They killed Islam and humanity,” Bazger’s post concluded with much anguish, akin to the sentiment felt across Kabul today.

Ali, who born as a refugee in Iran, returned to Kabul a couple of years ago with the hope of contributing to post-conflict Afghanistan. “I came here for a better future, and incidents like these can be extremely frustrating,” he says, adding that he is determined to stay in Kabul and be part of its rebuilding.

Ruchi Kumar is a Kabul-based journalist. She tweets at @ruchikumar